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What does a Cockatiel eat? Feeding guide for cockatiels

As with all pets, feeding a high-quality and varied diet is one of the most important factors in keeping your cockatiel happy and healthy. Unfortunately, there are still many myths about what cockatiels and other parrots should eat.

So what do cockatiels eat? Cockatiels need variety in their diet. They eat mostly small seeds, supplemented by fruit and possibly pellets.

What do cockatiels eat in the wild?

Although wild and domesticated cockatiels have different nutritional needs, it is still useful to consider the diet of wild cockatiels. What have they evolved to eat in their rugged Australian homeland?

You can find cockatiels almost anywhere in Australia, but they prefer the backcountry. The bird usually stays close to water, even though that habitat is usually dry. Cockatiels are nomads and migrate around in search of food and water.

Like budgerigars, cockatiels find food primarily on the ground. Their favorite food is seeds. Here they evolved specifically to peel and eat a seed at turbo speed.

The seeds they consume depend on what is available in their habitat. Jones discovered in 1987, for example, that they have a strong preference for sorghum or large millet. They eat as many as 29 different kinds of seeds, but young and soft seeds are their preference.

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Besides seeds, cockatiels will eat almost anything they can get their beaks on. They occasionally catch some insects and like to eat berries, fruits and vegetables. Sometimes they plunder farmers’ crops, much to the farmers’ annoyance.

As for water, these birds are well adapted to dry habitat and can go for a long time without water. When they drink, they are vulnerable and tend to swallow large amounts and quickly return their attention to their surroundings.

Did you know? Research suggests that cockatiels have considerable taste perception. This is useful for them to find out if a food is toxic or not.

Matson, Millam & Klasing, 2004.
cockatiel in the wild

What do cockatiels eat in captivity?

Wild versus domesticated cockatiels

As mentioned earlier, it is important to consider the feeding habits of wild cockatiels when devising a feeding routine for your domesticated cockatiel. After all, they evolved for a very long time to get where they are today in terms of dietary habits!

That being said, we cannot consider wild and domesticated cockatiels as equal. A wild cockatiel is nomadic and always on the move. They are active birds that have to work hard in hard times to find enough food and water. In captivity, of course, it’s a little different.

No matter how much you try to get your cockatiel out of its cage and encourage exercise, a domesticated cockatiel never needs as many calories as a wild cockatiel. Many seeds are fairly high in energy and your cockatiel may get too fat from them.

That said, there is still much debate about seed-based diets versus diets based on commercial grain foods. United States-based parrot enthusiasts seem to lean more toward pellets, while in Europe and other parts of the world, seeds are still a popular choice.

Whatever you decide to feed, the key to success is always variety!

cockatiel seeds

What can you feed?

The short answer: many things!

The long answer: usually a basic diet of high-quality seed mix or pellets is fed. But with that basic diet alone, he won’t make it either. In reality, exclusively feeding any type of food will eventually lead to problems such as obesity and/or nutrient deficiencies, which can significantly shorten the cockatiel’s lifespan.

As a variation, you should add other foods. Consider vegetables, fruits, seeds, legumes, grains, sprouting seeds, herbs, nuts (as treats) or weeds such as dandelions.

More info on what fruits a cockatiel may eat.

Did you know? Cockatiels, unlike some birds such as pigeons, peel seeds before eating them. This eliminates the need to add grit to their diet. On the contrary, it can cause problems.

It can sometimes be difficult to get your cockatiel accustomed to something different than he is used to. But it is very important to give a varied diet, so keep trying. Feeding low-calorie foods with higher nutritional value is the best way to prevent obesity and ensure that your bird has a long life.

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An example of a diet plan for cockatiels might be:

Tip: Don’t forget to also have a Sepia shell or calcium block available for your cockatiel.

There are a few foods that are often asked about. Let’s take a moment to go into whether your cockatiel can eat them or if they are unsafe!

Can cockatiels eat strawberries?

JEP, cockatiels can eat strawberries.
However, they contain a lot of sugar, so don’t make them a daily thing.

Can cockatiels eat bananas?

Yes, if you eat a banana you can give a piece to your bird friend.

Can cockatiels eat oranges?

Yes, although you should take it easy when it comes to citrus fruits.
Oranges and clementines are okay in small quantities, but lemons and limes are a bit too acidic.
Preferably, do not give seeds.

Can cockatiels eat carrots?

Of course, carrots are a healthy choice for your cockatiel.

Can cockatiels eat bread?

You can completely share a few crumbs with your cockatiel, but don’t overdo it.
Many types of bread contain salt or even sugar. As described here, bread is not a staple food for a cockatiel.

Can cockatiels eat peanut butter?

All-natural unsalted peanut butter is still ok, but very high in fat.
However, small bits here and there can’t hurt.

Can cockatiels eat cheese?

A little cheese probably won’t hurt, but this is really human food, not bird food.

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